Saturday, June 27, 2009

Response to a critic of Impetration v. application

A critic has written a response to my previous article Impetration v. application. You can find the critique at this link, and I invite you to read the critique and feel free to engage me or the author of the critique on the subject.

I note first that the critic has labeled me a "neo-Amyraldian." The critic doesn't know my views of Amyraut; he just wants a handy disapprobatory label. I am Amyraldian only in that Amyraut thought himself a follower of Calvin; I say, "me too." I somehow doubt that is the meaning my critic intends.

Relevancy of Romans 5:18

My critic has said that Romans 5:18 is "not germane" to the impetration v. application question. One wonders what kind of passage my critic would consider "germane." (His comment is ironic given the irrelevant passages offered up by the critic himself!) It is true that the passage does not go on at length about the matter. But the distinction between impetration and application is important to Calvin's argument in explaining the verse. Calvin specifically speaks of Christ's sacrifice and the enjoyment of the benefits of it. He further distinguishes the groups involved; those ("the world") for whom Christ suffered on the one hand and those who "receive him" on the other. If there is a world for whom Christ suffered and to whom he is offered who yet do not receive him, there must be some degree of separation in Calvin's mind between impetration and application.

The statement that this passage is not germane to the question is puzzling.

The alleged "inseparable" link

My critic refers to Calvin's commentary on Romans 8:34, alleging proof of the inseparable link between impetration and application. Yet nothing germane to the question is found there.

In reviewing Calvin's comment to 8:34, it should be noted that Calvin is arguing for the assurance of the godly, not the mass of humanity. Here is Calvin on Romans 8:31:

31. What then, etc. The subject discussed having been sufficiently proved, he now breaks out into exclamations, by which he sets forth the magnanimity with which the faithful ought to be furnished when adversities urge them to despond. And he teaches us in these words that with the paternal favor of God is connected that invincible courage which overcomes all temptations.

Calvin, Comm. Romans 8:31.

Calvin speaks in the following verses of believers: "they who possess him," "the godly," the faithful," "children of God," etc. For believers, then, paternal favor gives assurance. The love of God is here expounded by Calvin (explaining Paul) as being such as to give "that confidence which banishes all anxieties and fears."

There is no mention here of unbelievers, reprobate, or the like. Calvin's argument is that believers can feel assurance because the love of God is amply shown to us in the death of Christ. But what does that tell us about God's love for the ungodly? It tells us nothing.

It is possible (indeed, it is common in Calvin) to assert the love of God for believers (or the elect) on the one hand, and yet maintain the goodness and love of God for unbelievers on the other. My readers have seen the proof of this too many times to require additional proof. Again, one need only look at the masthead to see sufficient proof. God out of his goodness offers salvation to all. For Calvin, the sending of Christ, the suffering of Christ, and the offer of salvation in Christ are for all and demonstrate God's love to all.

Christ's eternal intercession

My critic refers to this phrase in Calvin's commentary to Romans 8:34:

But we must not measure this intercession by our carnal judgment; for we must not suppose that he humbly supplicates the Father with bended knees and expanded hands; but as he appears continually, as one who died and rose again, and as his death and resurrection stand in the place of eternal intercession, and have the efficacy of a powerful prayer for reconciling and rendering the Father propitious to us, he is justly said to intercede for us.

Calvin, Comm. Romans 8:34

My critic cites the Institutes (3.20.20) to the same effect. It ought to be sufficient to point out that both the Commentary and the Institutes speak of the manner of Christ's intercession, not the objects of that intercession. Calvin is denying that Christ kneels, pleading with outstretched hands. As opposed to this imagined pleading posture, Calvin says Christ's death is a sufficient and eternal intercession for us. Calvin is expostulating on the "powerful prayer" of Christ's sacrifice to disabuse us of any notion of suppliant pleading. Calvin is not here saying that Christ's intercession must inevitably extend to all those for whom he died ... though that is the way my critic reads him.

We also must recognize that (for Calvin) Christ intercedes for believers, not for unbelievers. This being the case, we have not gained anything by showing that Christ intercedes for believers; we already know that from Calvin. What the critics have yet to explain is how Calvin can speak of a world for whom Christ suffered and yet do not receive him. We still are faced with the necessity of acknowledging some distinction between believers on the one hand and those, on the other hand, for whom Christ suffered though they do not receive him.

My critic says, "Calvin is clear (elsewhere, as well as here) that the intercession is specific to the elect. Calvin is essentially saying that Christ intercedes for us by dying for us." Well, Calvin certainly is clear, though my critic has managed to misread him anyway. Calvin does not here at all limit the intercession to the elect (though he may elsewhere). But more importantly, the manner of Christ's intercession does in no way prove that all for whom Christ died will certainly receive the benefits of Christ's death.

The argument from logic

My critic makes a logical argument, supposedly showing that we must read Calvin as teaching limited atonement. Here is the argument, quoting from my critic's blog:

The Amyraldian and Arminian views essentially allege that God is already propitious toward all mankind. If Calvin held such a view, then knowledge of God's propitiation would not be a ground of assurance of salvation, since God is also propitious (according to the Amyraldians and Arminians) to everyone, even those in hell.


If Calvin believed that Christ is "already propitious toward all mankind," then knowledge of God's favor could not be assurance, for God would have been propitious toward all those in hell ... so it is alleged.

One hardly knows what to say to such a statement. This kind of argument will, of course, be enough to persuade many high and hyper-Calvinists. But it is very bad. Is there nothing to distinguish those in hell from those not in hell apart from the death of Christ? The difference for Calvin is, of course, the application of the benefits of the atonement.

But whether my critic's argument works or not is completely irrelevant to reading Calvin. One can make an argument that such and such ought to follow from such and such principle. But that is not a safe guide for reading a writer of weighty philosophical theology. One must look at the words themselves. Especially in this case, where we have a strong backdrop of explicit statements to oppose the "argument." Against Calvin's many clear universalistic statements, we are offered a flawed argument, supposedly requiring that Calvin must be read in some way as to negate those myriad clear statements.

Now I believe I am reading Calvin properly ... (I am, as the reader of good sense will agree) ... but it would be very bad reading and very bad argumentation to say that Calvin ought to be read as teaching a universal atonement because otherwise he would be expounding a view that deprives believers of assurance. I really believe that the high/hyper view deprives believers of assurance, but I would never argue that Calvin should be read in such and such a way because of the consequence of that argument. Arguments about what Calvin meant must be rooted in the language found in Calvin.

What my critic has proposed is both bad logic and bad hermeneutics.


Anonymous said...

Not knowing much of you or your reasonings, logic, I side differently with you on this point:

you wrote: "....It is possible (indeed, it is common in Calvin) to assert the love of God for believers (or the elect) on the one hand, and yet maintain the goodness and love of God for unbelievers on the other. My readers have seen the proof of this too many times to require additional proof. Again, one need only look at the masthead to see sufficient proof. God out of his goodness offers salvation to all. For Calvin, the sending of Christ, the suffering of Christ, and the offer of salvation in Christ are for all and demonstrate God's love to all....".

I have not been studying Calvin or Amyraut much. I have been studying the Bible a lot though now over 35 years and can say unequivocally you missed it there in the citation I make of yours above.

I narrow the field within the cited text:

"....God out of his goodness offers salvation to all....".

He does not. The only ones offered salvation in the sea of humanity past, present or to come are those predestined and foreordained to Eternal Life. Not every soul living is predestined or foreordained to Eternal Life.

The proclamation of the Gospel is indeed to be proclaimed to "every" creature for a witness and then the end shall come.

Nowhere in Scripture does it teach what you have taught there above.

Well, that's my response.

Steve said...

Thanks for reading and commenting natamllc. I have three responses:

1) What you're proposing is hyper-Calvinism;
2) What you're proposing is certainly not Calvin;
3) What you're proposing is certainly not Biblical.

If you've studied the Bible for 35 years and concluded that God does not offer salvation to all, then you've been reading with a strong bias of some sort.

a helmet said...


Good post. As I see it, in the Limited Atonement(LA) view, there's no meaningful necessity of faith. Yet the New Testament verbosely proclaims the necessity of faith in salvation. According to LA, faith would actually be dispensible. Salvation would "technically spoken", work just as well without faith, wouldn't it? Moreover, even the ongoing nature of intercession as an ongoing work of Christ's everlasting life (rather than his death, eg. Hebrews 7,25) doesn't really have a meaningful basis in the LA notion.


Concerning the offering of salvation to all, what about Revelation 22,17:

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

If this is not an invitation, then I don't know what is.

David said...

Hey Steve,

I read the piece from Turretinfan.

The problem with his argument should be obvious. The question is not, is the intercession grounded on the expiation and satisfaction. Christ prays for believers on the grounds of his sacrificial work.

Rather the issue from and for Nicole is: All those for whom Christ dies, he effectually prays for. If that premise holds good, then limited atonement would follow theologically.

Of course, that doctrine may be true and yet Calvin himself never believed it. So the bare invoking of that argument proves nothing for Nicole regarding Calvin. Nicole just begs the question when he just asserts that Calvin would have, must have believed it too.

Citing Calvin on Calvin where he says that Christ prays for believers on the grounds of his satisfaction, does not prove the needed premise.

What Turretinfan and Nicole need is an example from Calvin citing the premise. One wonders why Nicole doesn't? After all, the premise is the backbone argument in Owen, the real Turretin and many others. The other interesting this is that its not an argument found in any of the first generation Reformers, or even those of the 1580s generation.

The premise can be stated in various ways:

1) All those for whom Christ dies, he effectually prays for
or informally:
2) All those for whom Christ dies, will be saved [by way of the effectual intercession and other effectual means].

Your counterfactual from Calvin on Romans 5:18 therefore is perfectly accurate. Christ suffered for all (ie died for all), and yet all those for whom he suffered, are saved.

The way to evade this is not to say your quotation is off point, but that you have interpreted it wrongly, or something else. As it stands, and as it looks, the quotation is on point and valid.

David said...

The comment about God being propitious to all mankind means that he is propitious to men in hell is just absurd. Why do folk use such sad arguments? Calvin in his comments on John 3:16 expressly says that God is propitious to all:

“That whosoever believeth on him may not perish…” And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled [Latin, propitium: propitious, merciful, favourable] to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. Source here.

I am guessing that sort of counter from Turretinfan traces back to the absurd notion that if world in John 3:16, 17 means all mankind, it must include those in hell, as they are in hell, as if the Johannine kosmos includes those in hell. And so the absurd claim that a universal reading of world entails something like this: 'For God so loved all men, even those in hell, that he gave his son... He sent his Son into the world, even to those in hell....' see what I mean?

From Calvin we also have statements like this:

“To bear,” or, “take away sins”, is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that not all receive benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them. At the same time this question is not to be discussed here, for the Apostle is not speaking of the few or of the many to whom the death of Christ may be available; but he simply means that he died for others and not for himself; and therefore he opposes many to one. John Calvin, Hebrews 9:28.

Calvin, like Bullinger takes "the Many" universally of all mankind.

Take care,

Anonymous said...


with all do respect, I am not proposing one, two, or three. I am proposing that the Bible nowhere teaches what you taught above.

I will not dispute you on this.

As I just posted over at the "critic's" blog, and it may not be published there, I will say here in essence what I posted there.

God indeed wants His Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed to "every" creature for a witness and then the end shall come.

That is the necessity of proclamation, not "the saving of every soul" born of woman. If that were so, God would have to repent of all He has permitted since the creation of these present heavens and earth.

God "predestines and foreordains" some to Eternal Life through the free offer of Salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ. He does "foreknow" every soul born of woman. There is a far distant difference between the two. Some have been ordained to suffer Eternal Damnation. Everything God "ordains" is Holy and Righteous or else He could not record that He is Just and the Justifier of those who have been given His Faith:::>
Rom 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Rom 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Rom 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Rom 3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,
Rom 3:30 since God is one--who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

God by predestination "appoints" to Salvation through Jesus Christ those foreordained, not foreknown, to Eternal Life:::>

Act 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
Act 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

I cited at your critic's blog combox two passages of Scripture for my proof text, one from Psalms 34 and the other from Isaiah 46.

I do not intend on striving with you on this point. You opened the door for responses to what you put forth and I responded.

Now:::> Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
Rom 16:26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith--
Rom 16:27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Anonymous said...

Helmet, you said:

"....If this is not an invitation, then I don't know what is.".

Yes, it's an invitation but not the one you believe it is.

Those "given" His Faith ahead of the invitation are the only ones who would respond to it, turn and repent.

Paul made very clear that not "all" men have Faith. Some me are wicked and evil in this world and they will suffer eternal damnation for it.

Should "all" suffer eternal damnation for sins? Absolutely. But to those God, by His Holiness and Providence, gives His Faith, will repent when they too finally "hear" the Gospel of the Kingdom. These are those Peter wrote about here. Note well that God leaves nothing for these appointed to Eternal Life to do to secure their inheritance, "Salvation":::>

1Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1Pe 1:5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Anonymous said...


if I might bud in on your parade with Steve, you might just have shot yourself in the foot:::>

you wrote to Steve: "....'For God so loved all men, even those in hell, that he gave his son... He sent his Son into the world, even to those in hell....' see what I mean?...'.

Well, hmmmmm, Jesus did descend into hell and led captive many out of there.

Are you making a distinction between "hell" and eternal damnation then?

I am. So I say, you shot yourself in the foot. Please don't reload! :)

David said...

The idea that Jesus descended into hell is not a Reformed teaching.

Our shot is good, the problem is, your eyes are bad. :-)

Ask Turretinfan if Christ descended into hell?


Anonymous said...

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.

Steve said...

helmet ... I wanted to comment on something you said. You asked whether the LA view makes faith dispensable. You are right, given one way of looking at things.

The most stringent LA view (e.g., the hypers and the highest of the highs) does appear to dispense with faith as a condition. For these folks, faith is a *consequence* of salvation. I've asked some of these folks what they make of the scriptural statements that we are justified by faith, and some of them deny the truth of the statement and claim I'm expounding a "works" religion.

On the other hand, since we (I mean me, if not both you and me) admit a certain amount of mystery in our theological system that resists bright-line logical categories and syllogisms, we must allow the LA advocate to have his atonement view and the necessity of faith as a condition to justification.

Having said that, if the LA guy *does* hold to his strict LA and also says that faith is necessary to justification, then he can't object that we hold what we do about the will of God, the well-meant offer, the meaningfulness of human choice, and - of course - the necessity of faith.

I also like your final thought about intercession. I hadn't thought of that before, but it seems plausible as an objection.

YnottonY said...

I think David meant to say this:

Your counterfactual from Calvin on Romans 5:18 therefore is perfectly accurate. Christ suffered for all (ie died for all), and yet all those for whom he suffered, are **NOT** saved.

Martin said...


I am bemused by this:
"Yes, it's an invitation but not the one you believe it is.

Those "given" His Faith ahead of the invitation are the only ones who would respond to it, turn and repent."

How, exactly, does that modify it as an invitation??? We all grant that only those who are predestined to life will savingly respond to the invitation but that doesn't stop it being an invitation!

In no way do you show that the bible does not teach that God invites unbelievers to Himself. In any case this post is about what Calvin taught so it leaves one wondering why you felt the need to post it. I do not expect that you will readily forsake reading the bible in a lop-sided way if you've been doing it for 35 years. Nevertheless I implore you in Christ Jesus, if you believe in the doctrine of total depravity, then recognise that human pride will lead you to try to fit what you read to your system. Try reading the Word without doing this. Try coming before God and asking him to expose to you where you do it. Admit to him that you try to bend His Word to what you want it to say and ask Him to give you true understanding, whatever that may cost you.

May Christ be exalted in us all!

Anonymous said...


thank you for your kindness and question:

"....How, exactly, does that modify it as an invitation??? We all grant that only those who are predestined to life will savingly respond to the invitation but that doesn't stop it being an invitation!..."

It's an invitation. This Gospel of the Kingdom is to go out to every creature for a "witness" and then the end shall come. I did not say it was not an invitation.

Some of us are "invited" to give the invitation. Some of us receive it. All are going to "hear" the invitation.

There are three things.

One, those who "hear" the invitation and reject it.

Two, those who "hear and receive" the invitation and accept the Truth about it are those God gives His Faith to. These are saved from their own unrighteousness and are acquitted so as to have standing in His Righteousness forever in the Kingdom of God.

Three, there are those here, who God makes no invitation but "hear" it nevertheless and nevertheless it is rejected because they were rejected already.

The invitation will convict all of sin, righteousness and judgment.

In one since predestination is peculiarly a predestination for all three.

One, two and three:::>

Joh 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Joh 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Joh 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
Joh 16:10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
Joh 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Of these three, only those who have been given His Faith from the Hand of God believe Christ is raised from the dead, seated at His Holy Righteous Righthand in His Full Righteousness and will return back to earth in Our Father's Glory.

This is Righteousness.

All have sinned and have fallen short of His, Jesus' Glory, because of our own personal commission of sin. I sin because I am first a sinner. I do not become a sinner because I sin.

Those who will not accept God's invitation to "Resurrection Life", [equally this invitation is a charge of being openly guilty before Him against them], are those who the Holy Ghost will convict of sin. Why? Because they "do not believe". These are those who God has not given His Faith to.

God gives His Faith to those predestined and foreordained before the foundation of the world to this Holy Calling and Election.

To those who are not predestined and foreordained, even though they are "foreknown", are not given His Faith so as to be saved from Eternal Damnation.

They are the accursed ones spoken about in Scripture. Why are they accursed? Well, if you can hear this, it is clearly stated to Abram here:

Gen 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

The question is "how" does a person dishonor Abraham or one of his children of His Faith? By dishonoring those who "live" by His Faith in this world and before the ruler of the world, the Devil and his fallen angels.

Without Faith it is impossible to please God. It is "His" Faith that overcomes the world.

These are those whose destiny is to be cast into the lake of fire. Why? Because their name is not written in the Book of Life. They will suffer "Eternal Damnation" because God did not reveal to them that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God:::>

Mat 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

So, what can I say but be bemused then. It does not change a thing.

David said...

Thanks Tony,

Man I always miss the negations.

Steve, have you seen any actual response to the problem, other than the one piece by Turretinfan? It shouldnt be that hard, after all, in its simplest, it comes to this:

Show in Calvin where he affirmed all died for ones will necessarily be saved.


Steve said...

Hi David. I have not seen any answer to this question ... though you would be a better one to ask than me. Nicole just glosses over the problems and gives inadequate arguments.

I am half expecting T-fan to give it another try; ... we'll see.

I just remember James White and his Calvin "expert" talking about 1John 2:2 and Heshusius as the proof that "stands out" of Calvin's limited atonement credentials. They just don't have anything.

Derek Ashton said...


Thanks for this post. I always enjoy your reasoning. Your arguments are persuasive.

Reading through T-fan's material and your response (and all the ensuing debate), I'm struck anew with this fact:

What REALLY matters is not the view one takes on the extent of the atonement, but whether one BELIEVES in Christ' atoning work as that which took away ONE'S OWN SINS, personally and effectually. I imagine folks from both sides of this debate will be in heaven, but no unbelievers will be there. That much we know for sure.

So, it's back to preaching the Gospel to all, with the intention that they may come to the cross of Christ and be saved.

A plain reading of the Bible would lead us to the conclusion that God loves all people, but only elects some to salvation, which is by grace through faith in Christ.

I try to keep these things at the forefront, and let all the theological arguments remain in the background.

Thanks for your site, I enjoy it!


Steve said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Derek. I agree with your sentiments completely.